Mass spectrometers are important machines used in medical diagnostics, food quality control, and identifying hazardous chemicals. Researchers at Leipzig University are modifying mass spectrometers to synthesize new molecules. They recently created a new compound by combining a charged molecular fragment and nitrogen from the air. This compound can be used in various applications. The team published their findings in the journal Angewandte Chemie, which features a visual representation of molecules being “harvested” in the gas phase of a mass spectrometer and transferred into a chemical flask for conventional synthesis.
Breaking and reforming chemical bonds is a focus of chemical research. When a bond is broken in a charged molecule, it produces a reactive fragment that is difficult to control. In a mass spectrometer, these fragments are kept under special conditions because of the vacuum inside, preventing uncontrolled reactions. By offering molecules like nitrogen, which does not typically bind, the reactive fragments are satisfied and easily incorporate into new substances.
In the past, the research team used mass spectrometers to bring reactive fragments into unusual reactions with noble gases. However, traditional mass spectrometers only allow observation of the new compounds and cannot extract them. This publication presents a breakthrough where the team successfully collected and produced a new substance in sufficient quantities for further experimentation.
While the current method has limitations, such as being applicable to thin film technology, preparative mass spectrometry has the potential to revolutionize various fields like microchip, solar cell, and biologically active coating production. The research project has been funded by the Volkswagen Foundation’s Freigeist Fellowship since 2020, marking an important milestone in their work.
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